CocktailsFood & DrinkSpirits

The Martini: a guide to the classic aperitif

29 December, 2016 — by John Hayward0

If you hear the phrase ‘shaken not stirred’ you instantly conjure an image of Bond at the bar ordering the first of 20 Martinis. This is how entrenched in our psyche the cocktail is. Allow me to now introduce you to this classic on a more intimate basis. You are about to enter the often confusing world of what should be the most basic of cocktails, the Martini.


The Martini is one of the classic six as written about in David A. Emury’s indispensable ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’. It started out as a simple two ingredient cocktail, 7 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. Lob in an olive or twist of lemon and you have the original recipe Martini.

When this grew in popularity it started to evolve and spawn other cocktails bearing either the Martini or just ‘tini’ suffix. Many of these drinks bare absolutely no relation to the original. “Pornstar Martini anybody?” For Christ’s sake, it isn’t even creamy as its name would imply.

If there's a hair in it it's called a Ron Jeremy.
If there’s a hair in it it’s called a Ron Jeremy.

If confronted with a menu full of ‘tinis’ you should know that this mostly applies to the shape of glass it is served in rather than its constituent parts. This is a very silly glass indeed. Basically a saucer with a stem, purpose built to allow for maximum spillage on the way back to your seat. This is a very savvy tactic on the part of the Martini illuminati, guaranteeing you only ever drink 50% of the cocktail and thus buy twice as many to get the same level of drunk.

It's like the glass doesn't want to play a part in this cocktail.
It’s like the glass doesn’t want to play a part in this cocktail.

So what goes in the modern classic Martini?

The general consensus is now 6 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, this makes sense as it is easier to measure out than 7 parts. A choice of sweet or dry vermouth regulates the sourness of the drink. It should ideally be shaken with ice and served in a chilled glass. Always use high quality gin as this is the main flavour carrier.

Garnish is traditionally olives or a lemon twist as previously stated. Though the olive seems to still be a compulsory feature with some people, a strange choice of fruit that mystifies me. Who was sipping cocktails one balmy evening and suddenly thought to themselves “You know what this needs? A Greek pizza cherry.”

If you go for a dirty martini you also add a bit of the brine as well, which, to me, just seems wrong. This also begs the question, what life choices did the dirty martini make to become the Pornstar Martini? Embury even adds a bizarre extra demand that the olive be stuffed with, and I quote, ”any kind of nut”. It’s not until you attempt to stuff a coconut into an olive that you really appreciate the specificity of some cocktail recipes.

This must constitute a choking hazard.
This must constitute a choking hazard.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned the association with Ian Fleming’s misogynistic booze floozy, this wasn’t quite accurate as Bond’s drink of choice is the first evolution of the classic, the vodka Martini. This swaps out the gin for vodka and replaces the olive option with just a twist of lemon.

I find it slightly less palatable than the original, though still a very acceptable aperitif. Both fulfil the criteria set out by Mr Embury, they whet rather than dull the appetite and are well chilled.

Thanks, I made it myshelf.
Thanks, I made it myshelf.

Of course Bond is also famous for coming up with his own signature drink in Casino Royale. In a strange effort to befuddle a put upon barman he reels off the following list of pretentious demands, “In a deep champagne goblet…..three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shake it very well until it’s ice cold and then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…”

What an utter shit-hound Bond is, if you or I did that in Wetherspoons we would be assaulted by the English graduate behind the bar and rightly so. This is the Vesper Martini, named after the story’s love interest and not the Mod vehicle of choice. Ordering it at a bar will make you instantly both cool and a dick. A rare feat that can only otherwise be attained by getting a neck tattoo and a lumberjack shirt.

He never ordered like that again.
He never ordered like that again.

Best gin for a Martini?

I couldn’t write an article on Martinis without discussing the best gins to use. Due to the complex nature of the botanicals involved everybody seems to have a preference so I will just stick to the best tried and tested gins that are easy to obtain.

For a classic Martini taste, Plymouth is the gin of choice. It is subtle, sweet and vaguely lemony, an ideal base to build a two ingredient cocktail upon. Its beautiful taste belies its relatively cheap price tag.

Best served on a crag.
Best served on a crag.

Going in a slightly more avant-garde direction, some people prefer the more complex notes of Bombay Sapphire. While this is an adequate spirit, a better example of this more ‘oriental’ flavour of gin is Opihr. It has all the peppery, coriander infused wonder of Sapphire with a crisper, more refined palette.

Mmm, spicy.
Mmm, spicy.

If a dirty Martini is your bag then only one gin will suffice, Gin Mare. It is imbued somehow with the ghost of olives and rosemary. Screaming “splash me with your cloudy mediterranean pickle leavings,” it perfectly compliments this salty booze treat.

Dirty mare.
Dirty mare.

So if you ask for a Martini, you will get a Martini. If you ask for an espresso Martini, you will not. Don’t fall into the trap of the false martini. A classic is a classic for a reason, it cannot be improved upon.

Save your chocolat-inis, apple-tinis and kumquat-tinis for your hen-dos and work Christmas parties. Give us our pretentious little beverage in an overly spilly glass and let us pretend to be Bond for just one night.

Whilst they are shit-faced in the back of a pink limo, I am bounding out of the sea in tight blue swim trunks, beguiling a beautiful woman on horseback. Who knew you could creep out a barman with just a distant look and a grin?

The Martini: a guide to a classic aperitif
The Martini: a guide to a classic aperitif
You are about to enter the often confusing world of what should be the most basic of cocktails, the Martini. Pornstar or Espresso Martinis don’t count.
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